CogniFit's Science blog: Neuroscientists Find Neurons Send Rhythmic Signals Down Our Spine

Neuroscientists Find Neurons Send Rhythmic Signals Down Our Spine

Startling news from Stanford University suggests that motor neurons actually send basic rhythmic patterns down the spine to help drive movement in our bodies. Neuroscientists at Stanford made the discovery that better explains a number of questions and theories from the past.

The new findings explain some of the more perplexing aspects of neuron activity in the motor cortex that scientists have long pondered with. Neuroscientists revealed the information in Nature explaining that brain fitness activity controlling arm movement does not encode external spatial information but is actually rhythmic in nature.

It has long been known that neurons are responsible for vision encode specific the parameters of sight. Researchers have suggested that motor cortex neurons function similarly with movement like direction, distance and speed much like visual cortex records color, intensity and form.

With visual neurons taking in things in the world, it should have been obvious that neurons in the motor cortex would behave similarly. But these new findings suggest differently explaining how things are just not as concrete when it comes to movement.

One area of disagreement is movement parameters and how they are represented by individual neurons. There has been no way to look at an individual neuron firing in the motor cortex to determine what information it was encoding. The new findings show that the motor cortex is a flexible pattern generator that sends rhythmic signals down the spinal cord.

In essence, the motor cortex is not the steering wheel, odometer or speedometer. It runs far more like an engine as it is made up of parts that appear complicated in isolation, but cooperate in a lawful way to create motion. By monitoring electrical brain activity of motor-cortex neurons, researchers have found they exhibit brief oscillatory response.

What this shows is that the electrical signal driving a given movement is an amalgam of the rhythms of all motor neurons firing at a given moment. Scientists now know that each neuron behaves much like a band player. As the rhythms of all players are summed over the entire band, a fluid and accurate motion occurs.

There is no denying the obvious; there is much more research to be conducted. But for now, a system that has long been believed to be complex can now be understood in more straightforward terms. Understanding neurons and the motor cortex like this could pave the way to even more startling findings in the years to come.